by Sophie St.Clair
Last week I travelled to Sacramento to compete in the USHJA Children’s and Adult Amateur West Regional Jumper Championship. The event was held at Murieta Equestrian Center in Rancho Murieta, CA. My week began Tuesday with our departure from South Pasadena, CA where my barn is located to follow my trainer David Sterckx and my horse Sjapoo on the 400 mile journey to get there. After going over my checklist a few times to be sure we’d packed everything we needed we were off. Following Sjapoo it was easy to see that he is an excellent traveller. Not spooky and moved around very little. The weather and the traffic cooperated nicely the whole way. We arrived in the beautiful Rancho Murieta countryside with no problems.
Wednesday was the first time I would be in charge of the feeding, mucking and full care of my horse without the aid of a groom. It’s something that has been nagging at me in the back of my mind as to if I would be any good at managing it. I found that in fact I was capable and had a great sense of pride in how my horse was cared for and turned out. Sjapoo was a reflection of me and my efforts and he looked amazing. I hacked early Wednesday to get him moving after the long journey from the day before and then cleaned and prepped him for the Jog that was Wednesday afternoon. After a quick lesson in the proper way to jog we were ringside waiting for our names to be called. We went in the ring and while I was nervous that I’d do it wrong Sjapoo was fresh and flirty and had no problems showing how fit he was to the veterinarian. We cleared the Jog and headed to the riders meeting.
After a brief introduction to the format of the week by Meghan Carney of the USHJA and bit of background on the program by Jeff Campf, Chairman of the Regional Jumper Championship Committee for the USHJA there was a Q&A session with riders, trainers and Chef’s to understand fully the do’s and don’t of the week. After that we met our teammates for the Team Championship. I was on California Team One with Peyton Masteller, Jayme Omand, Lauren Kee and our Chef d’Equipe was Kelly Van Vleck.
Thursday was the first Individual Qualifier. It was a speed class with all 38 horses from the combined Children’s and Adult sections. The format is a bit different in that what is most important in the rounds for this week is to be clean with no faults. In the five rounds each competitor rides every fault carries forward throughout the week and ultimately determines your order of go and placing in the Individual Final. In this speed class on Thursday I went 24th so had a bit of time to watch a few rounds. I placed 4th Overall with no jumping or time faults. Phew! I was nervous and stressed because I knew I needed to do well. When I heard my results I was thrilled. Sjapoo and I were off to a great start.
Friday was the Children’s Team Championship. The format of the day consisted of two rounds of the same course. Fewest faults calculated between the two rounds determined the final placing for the Teams. (Remember the fault results of each of these rounds added to the previous days faults count toward each riders personal score for the Individual Final.) I was riding last for my team. I don’t know if you could officially call me an “Anchor” but I certainly felt that way. Riding last for my team had the added pressure of determining the fate of my team for the good or the bad. Peyton Masteller and her beautiful, very careful horse Pikador went first and like the day before was fault free. Next was Lauren Kee and her mount Lisnamult Lili. She picked up 4 faults in her first round. Jayme Omand and Legis Maloubet rode next and they finished fault free. Last was me and Sjapoo. Ok, at this point we are 16 rounds into this first round of the Team Championship. I am admittedly nervous and want to do really well for my team. Our team has 4 faults in this round and I need to deliver. I think though my nerves had the upper hand. I rode ok, not my best and while I was clear throughout the course I got excited to finish and……dropped the last rail. The price of looking forward rather than staying in the moment.
Time to retool for the second round. Fortunately, it was the same course so now I had a better feel for how it rides. Most important though was to step back, take a breath and execute David’s plan as we discussed. In round two Peyton was clear again, Lauren and Jayme picked up 4 faults and then it was up to me. While all of this is happening other teams are cycling through their rounds too and we are neck and neck with the Zone 10 Combined team. My round had to be clear and within the time allowed to help us stay in second place. I took a deep breath, kept my wits and executed a fault free round. Thank goodness! Our team finished on the podium in second place. California Team Two with Dalan Laughlin, Zoey Pacyna, Elizabeth McAfee and Serenity Phillips took first and the Zone 10 Combined team with Madison Myro, Natalie Wendt, Alexandra Bidwell and Jacob Dailey finished third. Sjapoo was a prince and performed so well under the pressure.
Saturday was a day off. I hacked Sjapoo early in the morning like I did everyday. Then a quiet day at the hotel finishing homework that needed to be done before returning to school. In the late afternoon I went back to the barn to take Sjapoo out on the trails to relax both of us a bit. It’s really pretty in Rancho Murieta and the facility is very nice. We stayed for the Grand Prix that night. There were 71 competitors in the class many of who were prepping for the World Cup Qualifier next Saturday. From a field of 71 to only 7 or 8 in the jump off it was one of the most exciting jump offs I have seen in a very long time. The star and winner of the night was a person I hadn’t seen before Tatiana Dzavik. She was amazing as were both of her horses in the JO.
Sunday, the final two rounds of the week for the Individual Final are today and I am sitting tied with Madison Myro for 6th place going into it. I carried forward my 4 faults from the Team Championship (very costly) and know I need to have two clean rounds to stay in the ribbons. Those are the facts with simple math. I have no choice but to go clean.
The format today is two different rounds, two different courses. I will ride 11th today. The rounds are moving very fast. I take a deep breath and ride my round executing the plan from David and finish clean and clear. I did not know at the time that the person I was tied with going to the first round had 1 time fault. I just knew I had to go clear in the second round. David and I walked the second course. I did a couple of jumps in the warm up ring and headed back to the arena. I stayed focused and in the moment with each jump and finished clean and clear. Sjapoo was perfect today. Just perfect. With that round I secured my fourth place standing. I could really relax now and watch the jump off to determine 1rst, 2nd and 3rd. I was really pulling for my teammate Peyton Masteller to win. But in the end it would be Serenity Phillips and her Tesoro that would take first, Dalan Laughlin and Orchidee in second and Peyton Masteller and Pikador in third. Each of these girls would have been a worthy winner as they all carried 0 faults through all five rounds and were fabulous riders. Very deserving medal winners.
So what did I learn? I learned that I can perform under the biggest pressure I have ever experienced and how to recognize when it’s my nerves getting in the way of my skills. When I recognize that then I can rely on my training to pull me through. I have learned there is a strategy to earning the points to qualify and being mindful of the careful management of my horse: not overjumping him, making sure he is sound, that he’s eating healthy and has the right supplements to perform his best. I have learned that I can care for my horse and his needs in a way that I can be proud of. And that competing in championships like this in the future is definitely something I will work toward.
This was an amazing experience. I am very proud of what I have accomplished throughout this process. I have had many highs and lows over the year getting to this place. Securing the top Children’s Jumper ranking in California, making it to the podium with a Silver medal for the Team Championship and securing 4th Overall for the Individual Final are real accomplishments. In the end though the real accomplishments are in the trusting bond I have with my horse Sjapoo and with my trainer David Sterckx and the knowledge, confidence and clarity I gained as rider and horsewoman. This championship was a perfect vehicle to galvanize my development. If you are a Children’s Jumper or will be soon I encourage you to find out more and participate in the program in the coming year. The qualifying period for the new season has started!